For many people living in our capital, life is more complicated than you may expect. Thanks, in part, due to a high cost of living, cultural pressure and even loneliness, what can be a thriving and vibrant city for some can be isolating, anxiety-inducing and stressful for others. Both professionally and personally, many Londoners struggle with these emotions on a day-to-day basis.
Because of this pervading culture, it’s not unusual for Londoners to experience the signs of burnout and stress, making it far easier to turn to addictive substances and behaviours.
With this article, we take a closer look at why life in London can result in significantly higher levels of burnout and increased stress. We’ll also list some of the best resources out there to help you see the signs of stress, cope with burnout, and prevent those addictive habits from taking hold.
Why are stress and burnout such a common thing for Londoners?
One thing that’s well-known about London is it’s a fast, competitive and always-on lifestyle. While this fast-paced life is something they thrive on, for others, the temporary ‘London’ high can quickly lead to burnout, stress and falling behind. Particularly for those brand-new to the London pace of life.
So, what are some of the most likely factors that make stress a day-to-day occurrence in London?
Competitive working environments
As England’s capital, it’s no surprise that London is The Place to get your foot in the door on countless careers. As such, younger people flock from all over the UK to seek better jobs and higher pay. But while they may find those things, London’s working world is more cut-throat than anywhere else. Competition, pressure and non-stop work are common, and newcomers want to fit in, leading to overworking. Workers in London are in the minority if they don’t regularly work overtime. In fact, 61% of all overtime in London goes unpaid.
What’s even more interesting is how those new to their careers in London face spiraling mental health. Depression and anxiety are far more likely in conditions where co-workers are pitted against each other, and the requirement to overachieve is overwhelming. This all leads to longer hours, higher stress, and even long-term burnout.
Long, difficult commutes
London is a vast place, and living and working in the same city doesn’t necessarily mean an easy commute. For younger professionals, up to 74 minutes spent on public transport a commute is about average. That means you need to be up earlier and go to bed later, with hardly any time for yourself outside of the workplace.
Combine that with extended business hours and overtime, and you have a recipe for burnout and exhaustion. For those with no time to rest, disconnect or take time from work, this poses a real risk. That’s without going into the famously stressful, busy and often infuriating London commute itself. Rising stress levels and daily commutes are already considered be strongly linked, which isn’t improved by a stressful and competitive workplace at the other end.
Overcrowding and high pollution
It’s a fact that London is both heavily polluted and overcrowded to the point of bursting. Unsurprisingly, neither of those facts are helpful for your mental health as a whole.
Studies have even shown that the crowding in cities can lead to poor mental health in their residents. In part, thanks to the environment and social elements and the overstimulation of always being around large amounts of people. Pollution has also been shown to have links to mental health issues like depression, so London is two-for-one on that front.
While London is crowded, many Londoners have also stated that, despite hundreds of neighbors, they feel lonely ion the big city. Time Out reported in 2017 that London was one of the loneliest cities globally. 66% of people under 24 feel lonely, while 26% of those over 45 expressed similar sentiments.
Why is London so lonely? The London culture of ‘keeping to yourself’ is likely one of the significant factors at play. In the report from Time Out, there were also several statistics surrounding sociability included. For example, London dwellers are 25% less inclined to chat to strangers than those living in similar circumstances in Chicago.
London is also a city of many individual parts that are loosely held together. As such, you are as much as 24% less likely to bump into a person you know. That means there isn’t that ‘community feeling’ needed to make you feel a part of something.
When we feel lonely, this can contribute directly to our stress, making those feelings more concentrated. With less access to a local support network, you also miss out on all the positive things in your brain that get active in the presence of friends and family. The neurochemical dopamine is triggered when you’re around people you enjoy being with, further boosting the chance of stress affecting you when you’re alone.
What are the symptoms and signs of being burnt out or stressed?
Our feelings of burnout or stress often don’t come from one single source. A combination of any of the above factors could help get your stress levels rising, so it’s not a surprise that more Londoners than you’d expect are struggling with this exact issue. But when it comes to identifying the triggers, symptoms and signs of stress – especially in a culture where we tend to downplay and prefer to ‘cope’ – it can be more of a challenge to spot these problems before they become severe.
Knowing what stress looks like, and understanding its symptoms, can go a long way towards helping you cope, recover or understand the root cause of these conditions. By taking a closer look now, you can prevent these effects from becoming a problem in the long-term.
What’s burnout and what’s stress?
It’s easy to lump burnout and stress into one big ball of negative feelings. But it’s important to figure out what is what if you want to help yourself. Here are the key differences you should know when you’re looking at stress v. burnout:
Everything you need to know about stress
Stress was a term that first became widely used in the 1920s. Based on the NHS definition, stress is how your body reacts to feeling under pressure or threatened. It involves the ‘fight or flight’ part of our brain, something we rarely need to use in modern society. Stress delivers the same response whether you’re being chased by a lion or under a ridiculous deadline at work. In small doses, stress is a normal part of life. But when your stress levels rise and don’t drop again, that’s when your physical and mental health suffers.
What are the symptoms of stress?
Stress is so every day in London that it’s practically part of the culture. As such, it’s not unusual for critical signs to go unnoticed when it comes to stress.
Stress can be both emotional and physical, and the feeling of being stressed than leads to changes in your behavior. Knowing which symptoms to identify to prevent chronic or long-term stress can help avoid lifelong problems. Severe, prolonged stress can cause serious health problems if left unchecked. If you already have heart problems, it can even be fatal.
Physical signs of stress
Based on NHS guidance, the physical signs of stress can vary significantly from one person to another. However, these symptoms are an excellent place to start to understand better the physical effects of prolonged stress. Symptoms include:
• Feeling dizzy
• Having pain or tension in your muscles
• Nausea and sickness
• Trouble sleeping
• Eating irregularly
• Changes in sex drive
If you’re frequently experiencing the physical symptoms of stress, this is usually a sign that your body is telling you it needs help in managing stress.
Emotional signs of stress
• A feeling of being overwhelmed
• Irritability or a ‘short fuse’
• Low self-esteem
• Racing thoughts that you can’t quieten
• Continual worry
• Problems with concentration
• Problems with decision-making
• Anxiety or other mental health issues
The emotional effects of stress can make it hard to live your life healthily, especially if you are also working in an environment that has a high-pressure culture.
Behavioural signals for stress
• Increasing the amount that you drink or how much you rely on drinking
• Increasing recreational and risky drug-taking activity
• Increased smoking
• Irritability with others
• Avoidance of people or tasks
• Feeling tearful or scared more than usual
Everything you need to know about burnout
Burnout may often be lumped in with stress, but it’s something else altogether. One definition of this specific phenomenon is by Herbert Freudenberger back in 1979, who was the first person to give a name to this specific condition. He describes burnout as when motivation becomes extinct, specifically due to a strong commitment in a relationship or a cause that has not turned out as the individual wanted. Burnout hasn’t been studied to the same degree as stress, but there has still been plenty of research over the years to support this definition.
When someone ‘burns out’, it is typically because of a job or responsibility that is overwhelming or too much for that person. High-pressure environments, competitive workplaces and longer hours all contribute to burnout. But burnout isn’t just a work-related issue – anyone with significant responsibilities, both professional and personal, can experience these feelings and symptoms.
What are the symptoms of burnout?
Many of the signs and symptoms of burnout can lead to comparable coping methods or types of behaviour. But beyond those similarities, burnout can be something different entirely. Here’s what Helpguide has to say about the specific signs that indicate burnout:
Physical signs of burnout
• Chronic headaches
• Stomach pain or aches
• Intestinal problems
• Lethargy and feeling drained
• More frequent illness and a less effective immune system
• Muscular pain
Emotional signs of burnout
• Feeling of doubt and failure
• Feelings of helplessness, defeat and being trapped
• Detachment from the world
• Lack of motivation
• A pessimistic or cynical worldview
• Less satisfaction and accomplishment from work
• Depression or anxiety
Behavioural signals for burnout
• Cancelling plans, withdrawing and separating from plans and responsibilities
• Isolation from friends, family and others
• Procrastination in everyday activities and responsibilities
• Turning to alcohol, substances, or food to cope
• Irritability and lashing out at others
• Reducing time spent at work or skipping work altogether
How can Londoners cope with burnout and stress?
If the stress and burnout signs we’ve listed above feel like they hit close to home, don’t worry. Many Londoners feel the same way, but there are useful and practical ways you can directly combat these symptoms to ensure your life is happier and more fulfilling.
While London itself can increase the likelihood of burnout or stress, the city is also a place of opportunity for communities, programmes and friendships if you know where to look. With so many chances to connect with others, pushing yourself to do so can be a fantastic way to get the support you need.
Here are just a few of the ways Londoners can ensure stress and burnout doesn’t take over their lives. These healthy approaches to coping can go a long way towards ensuring a healthier, happier, and more balanced life overall:
Connect with the fitness and wellness community
Exercise is good for you – and we aren’t just saying that for the sake of it. Exercise helps to reduce stress naturally through the release of endorphins that make you feel good. While you may not enjoy all forms of exercise, finding a niche that you do like is easier in London than in most places.
London has a wealth of different fitness centres, wellness clinics, gyms and outdoor clubs to connect with. Green space also provides the opportunity for solo outdoor exercise if you’re not a fan of a group setting.
If the motivation of a group is something you need for exercise, this list of free exercise clubs and groups in London is an excellent place to start. The more you move, the better you’ll feel.
Find local people to talk to and be with
As we talked about above, loneliness and London often go together. For isolated people, stress and burnout can quickly become a more severe issue than it would otherwise. Simply having someone to vent to can help to lessen the effects of stress, according to scientific study. Having people to connect to when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed is a crucial outlet to have.
You may think it’s impossible to connect with others in a vast city like London. But luckily, there are plenty of resources out there to help you find ‘your people’ and connect with new friends and acquaintances to improve your quality of life.
This handy article describes some of the ways you can meet people locally and connect with individuals that have similar interests to you. Friend apps, hobbies, meetups and even exercise groups are all ways to connect with people around you on your terms.
If you’re already struggling with mental health issues, the thought of putting yourself out there can be anxiety-inducing. If none of the methods above sound like a good fit for you, there are plenty of other options to meet similar people in safe, no-judgement settings.
Mental Health Mates is one such group run by volunteers and arranges regular walks to allow people to connect with others in a safe and friendly environment. Several different walks are run throughout London, and their goal is to help people realize that they aren’t alone in the big city.
Another way to meet individuals who struggle with similar mental illnesses is the London Depression & Associated Problems Meetup. This group helps to provide friendship and much-needed support to London through a range of engaging and exciting activities.
For those that are keen on fitness and meeting people in one go, the London Stress Relief Walks and Socials are an excellent meetup to choose. Working to combat loneliness by helping its members meet people from all different walks of life, you get twice the benefit of exercise endorphins and good company.
If none of the above sounds like a good fit for you because of shyness of social anxiety issues, that doesn’t mean you have to put up with feeling lonely. Specific meetup groups for likeminded people are offered across London, offering a low-pressure way to meet others. You can find a whole list of these meetups here.
Practice mindfulness and gratitude
Mindfulness may be the buzzword of the moment in fitness and wellness, but that doesn’t mean these techniques aren’t incredibly effective against burnout and stress. By focusing on the here and now and looking at what is good and what you’re grateful for, you may find yourself having a better perspective on the stressful circumstances in your life. Daily mindfulness has been shown to improve your immune function, lower your blood pressure, and even help you sleep better.
London is packed with great organisations to get you started on your mindfulness and gratitude journey. These three options are an excellent place to start to find high-quality mindfulness courses and classes in the London area:
Mindfulness meetups are also available both casually and formally across London<. These meetups are great ways to meet a wide range of people and are more accessible and financially suitable for many.
If your preference is going digital for mindfulness, there are plenty of online resources designed to support a healthier mind. Both Headspace and Calm are popular, award-winning apps that can be used to practice mindfulness. Using a journal for gratitude is another alternative, with both digital apps or old-fashioned pen and paper.
Eat better, more nutritious meals
Food can make you feel good and bad. When we get stressed, our eating habits can make us feel even worse than we did already.
With food playing such an essential role in how we feel, having a good awareness of what you’re putting into your body can help you in the long-run. London is filled with fast-food places and coffee shops, and it’s easy to default to fast, cheap food options. Combine that with the long commutes and even longer working days, and Londoners will most often go for the fatty, speedy option to make them feel better – but in most cases, that greasy food can have the opposite effect.
So, what can you do to improve your nutrition and ensure you’re helping your body manage stress? Here are a few changes you could make:
• Switch to food that’s nutrient-dense to make sure your body is getting all it needs to heal from stress. Even if you’re too busy to cook, opting for healthy ‘fast food’ over unhealthy options is a great first step.
• Prep your lunches the evening before ready for work, and you’ll never be caught short on your lunch break. This can also ensure you get a decent, cooked meal in the middle of the day – which is always better for you.
• Invest in a delivery box service. London has plenty of options for healthy food delivery, including Balance Box, Potage and The Pure Package. If you can afford to get healthier food delivered, it’s always worth doing.
Don’t engage in addictive habits or unhealthy behaviours
Burnout and stress can be easy to feed with addictive habits and behaviours, from smoking to gambling to recreational drugs. The more under pressure we are, the more likely we will fall into addictive and problematic behaviours that only serve to make us more stressed or burnt out. For individuals who already drink, this could mean a large increase in the amount of alcohol they drink per day, which can lead to a daily dependence.
While addictive habits may seem like a way to cope with burnout or stress, they are an unhealthy coping mechanism that can lead to many more problems down the line. At that point, you may need to seek professional help from an addiction team like Serenity Health Rehab Clinics, where you can receive expert support for a range of addictions.
So, how are burnout, stress and addiction linked? Read on to discover more about the connection between these conditions.
How burnout and stress can feed into addiction
Chronic stress makes us more vulnerable. As such, it’s easier for poor impulses, habitual behavior and addiction to slip through the net and take hold. The more stressed you are, the less of a handle you have on handling things like overeating, alcohol use, smoking, gambling and drug use.
Addiction and substance abuse problems are also widespread in those struggling with burnout for much the same reasons. Insight into how addiction is a response to stress and burnout can go a long way towards understanding triggers and working towards better coping methods. The symptoms and behaviours of addiction are as follows:
Physical signs of addiction
• Lack of awareness or concern over appearance
• Poor personal hygiene
• Insomnia or poor quality sleep
• Shaking and sweating
• Anger and irritability
Emotional signs of addiction
• Worsening temper and mood swings
• Extreme, constant fatigue
• Increasing depression or anxiety
• Difficulty in concentrating
• Poor decision making and judgement
• Memory issues
• Poor self-esteem and self-worth
• Overwhelming hopelessness or feelings of despair
Behavioural symptoms of addiction
Regardless of the kind of addiction, the behaviour displayed by individuals who are addicted tends the be universal:
• Engaging in habits and behaviours no matter the consequences
• Dishonest and secretive behaviours
• Poor attendance and responsibility
• Withdrawal and isolation from work/social life
• Loss of interest in events, hobbies and previous topics of importance
• Failure to stop or prevent addictive behaviours and actions
Where can you get addiction help in London?
Addiction is a root cause of burnout, or stress can be challenging to handle – especially if the triggers for that stress are still a part of your life. That’s why it’s vitally important to seek expert help as soon as you are aware of your coping mechanisms for burnout or stress are becoming addictive behaviour.
The sooner you find support, the less the impact of your addiction on your life. London has a wide range of options for addiction treatment, support and management. Whether you choose to go for private support groups, a rehabilitation centre or more casual meetups, there’s a wealth of help there if you look for it.
Serenity Addiction Clinics in London
Serenity is a specialised addiction service, providing individuals with addiction problems with a professional avenue for care and treatment. Our focus is on not just resolving addiction issues but the stress and burnout that they stem from. Allowing you to live a happier, healthier and addiction-free life.